If you are starting your own business, an online presence is now more important than ever.
Your clients will expect to find you online and be able to interact with you easily, and a professional website, which offers a window into your services, will also help you to generate new income.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a software programmer to create your own website. There are both simple-to-use web tools, and a host of companies, available to help you.
Building your own website is achievable with the help of tools like cloud-based web development platform, Wix, and service-based content management system, Squarespace, which can help you get off the ground quickly.
When designing a website, there are several important dos and don’ts, say experts.
Keep it simple
“What we generally recommend for financial and accountancy websites is to keep everything quite simple,” said Matthew Adams, managing director of Webfactory, a Cardiff-based company creating bespoke business websites.
“So when people visit your website they see what you do and are able to get to get that information easily and also your contact details. Don’t have really complicated contact forms.”
Good content was important but should not be overwhelming, he added.
“When you land on the homepage it should have clear links to your major services and you’d click to go into those and find more information there, broken down into small paragraphs and clear headings, rather than blasting someone with paragraph after paragraph.”
People browsing the internet will decide in seconds if your website is of interest or not, Adams argued. “So if your website loads slowly, if it doesn’t look good, if it’s not clear what you offer, they’ll just move onto the next one.”
Sometimes, accountancy websites often looked dated and did not work well on mobile devices, he said. “If someone puts the investment in to make sure that their website looks good and can be found easily, it’s really going to make them stand out against the competition.”
But while Wix and Squarespace offered people on a very tight budget good basic templates that could be easily customised, their services could only take you to a certain level, Adams argued.
“It looks fantastic but there’s lot of stuff that you don’t know,” he said. For start-up businesses, he recommended investing just a few hundred pounds to enlist a web design experts who could also help with additional must-have functions like search engine optimisation (SEO).
“It’s the same as the accounting industry – somebody could do the books themselves but are they going to know about research and development tax relief? You might do, but you could potentially be spending a lot more tax than you need to,” he explained.
SEO, which determines where you are found on search engines like Google, is one of several key areas where experts with knowledge of ranking algorithms, can step in to help.
“If you don’t get that right… then that’s where you could lose out massively,” said Adams.
Designing your website so that it loads properly on multiple devices, and automatically has the right size of image files are also functions that web consultants can offer technical expertise on.
Having a good website does not need to cost a fortune, Adams argued.
“Make sure your website loads quickly. Make sure your branding is up to scratch. Often people do not have great logos so it’s worth investing in that to make sure the first impression is good… It damages your brand if you’re not presenting yourself in a professional way.”
Anton Halpern, managing director at creative design company, Web Pro IT, in Bournemouth, agreed that an unprofessional website could discourage people from investing in your services.
“It’s your window to the outer world, the first point of contact for clients, so it should really give a proper presence,” he said.
Finding the right content was also key, he suggested. “It establishes whether the company has got the knowledge and the abilities, but also gains traction on Google,” Halpern said.
“People want to consider what their audience is and what their website is going for… If you’re looking to gain enquiries then you need good content. You need something that Google can index,” he argued.
“It’s mainly about articles and content that people will come back to the website to read and pick up. At the end of the day, it’s about getting them to call you and talk to you, which is where you get the opportunity to sell.”
While Wix and Squarespace were good tools to start with, they also had their limitations, he cautioned.
“You’re only going to get to a [certain] level unless you know html or unless you are a good CSS programmer… because they’ve got to have boundaries and parameters to keep their systems secured,” Halpern added.
If you’ve got the budget, creative agencies could help to provide that additional technical service.
“A very good website takes time and a lot of effort in terms of the design and user experience and understanding how people are going to go from one page to another and how it all works, and also plug-ins that people may need.”
And whether you opt to pay a company to create your website, or decide to build your own, choosing the right platform and maintaining your security updates is crucial to protecting yourself from hackers who could use your site for phishing or spamming.
Choosing whether to proceed yourself or to hire experts might simply come down to time, Halpern pointed out.
“If you’re a financial advisor or accountant, do you have time to be doing this?” he asked.
“Most people want to get on with running their business and want to pass it on to someone who knows what they’re talking about and can deliver something that looks the bee’s knees and does what it’s meant to be doing.”
Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.